Halfway through sophomore year, I am nervous for one of my spring classes — Chinese I. But I look Chinese, so why am I taking this 100-level course? I want to pursue courses that help me appreciate where I come from.
I was about four years old when a small book was placed into my hands. It was a photo album; this was the first hint that I would leave my snug orphanage and enter the wondrous world of adoption.
The first couple of pages featured a fair-haired man and woman smiling with joyful blue eyes. The man held an infant with black hair and slanted eyes like mine. A number of photos highlighted the three people having fun. One eye-opening picture showed the man and child standing on a choppy white landscape. In Guangdong Province, China, snow is rare.
I was not even aware I was living in an orphanage — I just always thought it was my home. It never occurred to me that someday I would be taken away from that place forever.
Time flew like the wings of a hummingbird. I was another year older when someone led me into an office I had never seen.
The man and woman from the photo album stood before a desk and turned around to see me. Soon the adults exchanged muddled words that I tried to comprehend, and I was squeezed between the couple in the back seat of a taxi. As the vehicle slowly rolled away from the orphanage, I remember looking out to see the orphans left behind and solemnly saying “Zai jian,”or “Goodbye.”
I remember having to call them Mom and Dad. That infant who had the same hair and eyes as me was my new sister Katie, who had been adopted just a few years prior to me.
It was two weeks later when the woman — Mom — took me to a towering building that was called a school. I was in the United States for barely two weeks and about to embark on another adventure: Roosevelt Elementary School.
Naturally, I was shy. Kids spoke to me and I did not understand.
At least I had Mrs. Lochner. She taught me English and was very patient as I learned at my own pace. The English language sounded like a muffled hum of words, whereas Chinese consists of sharp, clear tones. After exposure to English lessons, plus watching Nick Jr., learning this new language started seeming easier and even enjoyable.
However, protecting my own vernacular became difficult as years went by. I attended a Chinese school on Saturdays and although I already knew Chinese, I struggled. I knew Cantonese, not Mandarin; it was a different dialect, which the school taught and I did not speak. My use of English progressed, but my Chinese regressed slowly as time elapsed.
Fourth grade approached and I discontinued Chinese school. Unfortunately, it took me a long time after that to realize that the Chinese language was all I had left of my original self. Each time I tried to re-teach myself, the challenge became more difficult. If only there were a way to capture my vernacular with a camera and put it in a photo album so I could keep it forever and never forget it.
On the opening night of Hawthorne High School’s production of My Fair Lady I arrived early and grabbed a seat in the middle section. A little Chinese girl skipped down the aisle and plopped herself right in front of me. Her black hair twirled as she spun around. Our eyes met for a quick second.
Then, to my surprise, a Caucasian woman took the seat next to her and hugged her tenderly. The woman and I struck up a conversation. She told Annabelle, her daughter, that I was adopted as well, but since Annabelle was only five, it was insignificant to her. Still, I looked Annabelle in the eyes and smiled, thinking, “How lucky you and I are. I pray and hope that someday you will fully understand and appreciate everything.”
Looking back on the past 14 years of my life, being adopted wasn’t so frightening after all. Without a doubt, having the chance to live with a plethora of options for a better future motivates me. Those blank pages in my photo album are now overflowing with precious moments, and I’m running out of space as I continue my life here at Rider. Resuming Chinese for the spring semester can’t come soon enough.
Sophomore journalism major
Printed in the 11/30/12 edition